Lightning Book Reviews on Suffering and Adversity

{This post contains affiliate links.}

Here are short (lightning) reviews of recent books I’ve read. Each one has a similar theme of trusting God and loving others in the midst of suffering and brokenness:

A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and our Pain by Elisabeth Elliot

If anyone is an intimate friend of suffering it is Elisabeth Elliot. She experienced the anguish of delayed desires with her future husband Jimthen after two years of marriage Jim was killed by Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador, and lastly her second husband passed away from cancer. Her path was through suffering, but Elliot shows us the light on the path that guides and comforts us, and ultimately transforms all our grief, loss, and heartbreak. She weaves in analogies from the life and death cycle of nature: the breaking of acorn shells, the plant’s first stages of leaves and shoots, seasons, falling leaves, and bearing fruit. Elliot helps us see meaning in our dark night of the soul.

A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller

Paul Miller traces the life of Ruth in a way I have never seen done before. He highlights biblical truths, ancient history, cultural underpinnings, and symbolism, while also using Ruth as an archetype of loving sacrifice and unconditional love in the center of personal isolation, hardship, and grief. This is a great book if you are in the midst of a broken relationship and figuring out the part you can play towards restoration, if you struggle to love people (especially those who are difficult to love), or if you are experiencing any kind of relational hardship and pain.

Trusting God: Even when Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges

This is probably considered a Christian classic, but I never read it because as a young naive girl I didn’t think I needed insight into trusting God in life’s hardships. Honestly, I never experienced anything that hard, until I moved across states away from friends and family to marry my husband and start my own family. Life got hard. And life hurts at times, like the subtitle to the books says. Bridges builds a thorough theological, and yet practical, case for trusting God. He addresses the sovereignty of God over people, nations, and nature, and even in relation to our responsibility. He asks hard questions like, “Can you trust God?”, and “Is God in control?”, while helping us grasp God’s love and wisdom, even in adversity.

 

 

Advertisements

The Daily Work of the Spirit

Growing up in the church I was familiar with ministry nights. I also grew up experiencing the full gamut of Christian conferences and retreats. These events included extended times of prayer and worship accompanied by serene guitar strums and low lighting. Sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit felt as effortless as the melodies falling softly on my ears. These felt like special times when God would reveal himself to me in my stillness, and the Spirit would convict me of sin and help me set my sights on Christ.

These organized events can be refreshing and beneficial, but I’ve realized I should be seeking ministry from the Holy Spirit at all times. The Spirit’s ministry doesn’t have to be still, quiet, peaceful, and at a scheduled time. The Holy Spirit works in the mundane everyday moments of life — the nitty-gritty daily grind.

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

3 Gospel Truths to Teach My Sons About the City

I live in the hometown of the Fresh Prince of Belair: West Philadelphia. But unlike Will Smith, I wasn’t born and raised here. Yet like Will Smith, the playground IS where I spend most of my days — mainly because I have two little boys. Many young married couples leave the inner city when they start a family, but we did not.

Most parents are rightly concerned with sheltering their children. (Even though we need to be wary of over-sheltering.) But growing up in the city my sons will be exposed to things on a regular basis that a child living in the suburbs might never encounter. I view this as a positive thing and a tool I can use in my mothering. I’m determined to show my sons the Gospel in our city living. Here is how:

1.) Diversity

Our row home is between a halfway house and a convent. To my left the street numbers get higher and go deeper into West Philly. When I push the double stroller with my shining white children to this side of the neighborhood, we are the white dots amidst a dark sea of black faces. If I push my double stroller to the right of our row home the street numbers get lower and the face coloring changes. On this side of my neighborhood is a large Muslim population, complete with a mosque. Walking this way it’s not uncommon to see women shrouded in black fabric — even at times only revealing their eyes. There are many Indian and Asian eateries on this side, representing those cultural populations as well. Around the corner from my house is a Spanish owned “corner store” where my 3 year old dances to salsa music.

As I walk further down this side of my neighborhood it turns into University City. This part of West Philadelphia is more affluent, since it is the home of Drexel University and the Ivy League UPenn. In this area of the intellectual elite there are rows of sororities and fraternities. University City is also home to many hippies and hipsters, many of whom frequent our local Co-op — the place where I can’t determine the gender of the individual bagging my groceries.

We live in a small area of racial, religious, cultural, sub-cultural, and economic diversity. What can I possibly teach my sons about the Gospel here? Namely, that the Gospel is not just for American middle to upper class white people. The Gospel is no longer restricted to one ethnic community (the Jews), but through Christ’s death and resurrection it’s available to a wide range of people (the Gentiles). Heaven will be a co-mingling of races and cultures. The Gospel makes no room for racism or partiality to economic status; before the cross the ground is leveled for us all. Through Christ’s atoning blood the barrier between us all is broken, because when we are at peace with God we can be at peace with others.

As I walk my sons on either side of our neighborhood I can teach them about the Gospel: how God loves to redeem a diverse group of people to himself. He desires that none should perish, not even the androgynous person bagging our groceries who can receive a new identity in Christ.

2.) Comfort

The city can make people uncomfortable. Who hasn’t experienced a struggling conscience when passing by a smelly man in dirt-smudged baggy clothes holding a cardboard sign asking for money? The subway can be a place of strong discomfort when you’re packed in tightly in the heat of summer — holding on with one arm up. We try not to look each other in the eyes too closely, because God forbid we have to say hello.

When I first moved here I was uncomfortable with parallel parking, laundry mats, and the plethora of one way streets. My first year of city living was paid for in parking tickets. I had no idea what all the parking signs meant. Where do I pay for my parking spot? How long can my car sit in this space until I see that white paper on my windshield?

Sometimes my boys and I walk by people who scream at each other or a car zooms past blaring rap music laced with obscenities. Often times we run into the crazy man from the halfway house who mumbles under his breath as he shuffles by on the sidewalk. Talk about feeling uncomfortable.

And yet the Gospel is never about personal comfort. Jesus left his heavenly comforts to make a home in uncomfortable surroundings. His entrance into this world began cramped inside a womb, and he was laid in a wooden manger among the filth and foul odors of barnyard animals. We can tell Jesus felt uncomfortable in the Garden of Gethsemane as he wrestled with the most uncomfortable decision of all: dying on a Roman crucifix. And yet Jesus put all his comfort aside to literally take up his cross and die. I can remind my children of these truths on our next subway ride, because we must also be like Jesus and sometimes sacrifice comfort for the sake of the Gospel.

3.) Safety

Many women ask me if I feel safe here. Our family asks why we don’t move to the suburbs with our boys. At our previous residency our next door neighbor had a break in — encountering the robber face to face. Our current home was previously inhabited by a sexual predator who stole the house from its rightful owners. The bank put the house up for sale when the man was arrested and charged with fifty felonies. Recently a young woman was murdered in her apartment a few blocks from us, and there was a shooting on our Pastor’s street.

My family and I are never truly safe, and yet we are ultimately safe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The stories I see on the news show me that no matter the place of residency none of us are safe from physical harm or death. But we can be confident that in Christ our souls are eternally safe. Though we turn on our security system every night, I can teach my sons about the true security found in the Gospel. If they believe by faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead they will be saved from the reign of their sin and the flames of hell.

By raising my children in the city I can teach them that the Gospel shines brightly in diversity, it is no respecter of personal comforts, and that our ultimate safety is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is good news to share on either side of the neighborhood.

The Seesaw of the Christian Sub-Culture

A seesaw can never be equally balanced on its own. You either go up or down in relation to the weight on the other end. The only way for a seesaw to stay balanced is for a person to hold one end and sustain the full weight. Likewise, the Christian subculture is on a constant seesaw. We go high on one end and then realize we can’t get down. Sometimes we plummet to the bottom to realize we are stuck. Now how do we get back up?

Whether it’s the dating world, roles in marriage, how-to parenting articles, views of sin and grace, or entertainment choices, it’s hard for Christians to keep things in balance. Facebook feeds put this seesaw effect on full display with an all-in or out approach to current issues facing the world and the Church.

Lots of Sin Talk

I grew up in a church where sin was talked about a lot. Repenting of sin and seeking help and change are vitally important to the Christian life. God commands us to be holy as he is holy. Paul talks about not continuing in sin just because we are saved by grace (Romans 6:1-4.) Jesus spared an adulterous woman from punishment who, by the law, deserved to be stoned. Jesus didn’t condemn her, but he did tell her to “go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11.)

The problem with making just sin the central focus of our Christianity is being stuck at the bottom of the seesaw. We end up seeing no way up. All the confrontation and change seeking can wear you down after awhile. There ends up being no hope and no seeming way of escape. This hyper focus on our sin can lead to legalism, doubt, depression, and just plain unloving thoughts and attitudes toward others.

So, how can we get some leverage here? Well, we don’t want to put too hard a weight on the other side either, then we’ll be up too high with no way down.

The Other Side of the Seesaw

I’ve seen another camp of Christians overcompensate for this strong view of sin by only talking about the love of Jesus in a way that is too permissive of real sin. This camp of followers tend to view Jesus as their boyfriend, their feel-good therapist, or an anti-depressant pill. Talking about Jesus’ love and grace without confronting sin is their happy mirage that makes them feel good about themselves. This can lend itself to licentiousness, apathy, and lethargy in our real and biblically defended battle against sin.

Finding the Balance

How can we stay in balance then? It seems like an impossible feat. It’s possible when we look to the one who holds the seesaw and makes it level for us. Jesus lives the balance; he declared perfect balance at the cross. There was perfect justice by taking our place as the sacrifice for sin needed to satisfy the holy wrath of God. God hates our sin and loves his holiness. No place tells us we are a great sinner better than the cross. This was the ultimate confrontation.

Yet, justice was balanced by perfect grace, love, and mercy. We didn’t deserve what Jesus did, which makes his costly grace that much more amazing. We were not worth the sacrifice, but God sacrificed his son because he is the worthy one. Worthy of all praise and devotion for displaying the perfect balance towards us. God showed anger and wrath against our sin, but didn’t kill us for it as needed, instead he threw the blame on himself out of love and mercy to afford us his grace.

We Need Both Sides

We can’t fully appreciate and understand God’s love apart from his wrath against sin. Likewise, we can’t fully hate and fight our sin until we see the power of God’s costly grace at work in us. Gazing at the beautifully worthy grace of Christ in the midst of our sinful unworthiness is what should spur us onto a life of godliness. He loves us in spite of our sin, because his wrath has been satisfied through Christ’s death. His kindness at the cross leads us to a life of repentance and faith.

Focus in Balance

We find ourselves out of balance when we focus on ourselves too much. We can hang low on the seesaw and get bogged down with looking at our sin, but we are still self-focused at the top when we use God’s love as a way to gratify ourselves. We make the cross about us when it is really about God. The cross is the focal point of God’s revelation of himself to us. We gain a proper understanding of ourselves when we understand who God is at the foot of the cross. Our eyes need to be focused on the one holding the seesaw for us. We need to ask him for help when we get out of balance. Because of the cross he can give us the sustaining help we need to fight sin in light of his grace and love for us. God is perfectly balanced in all of his attributes, let’s avail him of help to do the same.

Weak, Needy, and Perfect

Motherhood is the mirror reflecting my neediness. From my firstborn son’s cries after an hour and a half of me pushing in labor to postpartum depression and sleepless nights, and now to juggling an inquisitive non-stop talking 2 year old with his crawling 8 month old little brother, is the most needy for the Lord’s grace I’ve ever felt.

I wasn’t prepared with my first son to experience the constant stripping away of my selfishness and freedoms. My life was wrapped around the little finger of my not so sleepy baby. Dying to myself was like trying to bend wood. Would it break? It did, and it was a glorious thing. Because in the breaking I realized I was weak and needed to draw near to my savior.

In Desperate Need

Now my firstborn son is almost 3 and he is still showing me how weak and needy I am. He craves knowledge, so much so that his questions are on repeat all day and night. Even when my husband gets home I’m still the soundboard my son mainly uses for his questions and talking.

Lately, when I tell my son to wait before I can do something for him his request will be made known over and over again until it’s fulfilled. Of course, when he does this he won’t take into account when mommy is busy, tired, or overheated and exhausted from pushing him in a double stroller 12 blocks after story time at the library. If only my toddler were more sensitive to my needs. But he’s not, and it’s not his fault.

I wish I could say I always respond to my son with a sweet and sunny disposition, but I don’t. Left in my own strength I can raise my voice, get irritated and snap at him, and just plain lose patience. This grieves me, because I love my son. I always thought a mother’s love for her child was the strongest love there is, but it’s not, because it’s tainted with sin. It’s not enough. But Christ’s love is enough for both me and my son. It’s stronger than my natural mother’s love and stronger than my sin. I desperately need Christ’s love to cover my daily sin and I need to ask for help to love like Christ.

The Perfection in My Imperfection

Christ’s love shines brightest when I realize my love is weak. Weakness and neediness in motherhood is absolutely perfect, because his power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9.) God uses me best when I realize I’m imperfect and need his perfection. God also gets the most glory in this situation, because I am left with no reason to boast in anything.

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 says,

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

I am the one who is foolish, weak, low, and despised. Yet, I am chosen. God, through Christ, has set his affections on me and can give me the strength to daily love my son like Christ loves me.

Unfulfilled Longings in the Check Out Line

Part 3 of the Christian Thinking series. 


Have you looked at the women’s magazines at the store check out lane recently?

  • 99 Ways to Look Better, Feel Better, Enjoy Life More!
  • Snack off Weight
  • Look Gorgeous When It’s 100 Degrees
  • 25 Secrets to Looking Young
  • Indulge Yourself: Instant Long Hair; Goof-proof Self-tanning
  • The Little Health Habit That Keeps You Thin, Improves Your Skin, and Ups Your Energy!
  • The Easy Life: Fun Jobs, Cool Dresses, Wild Fantasies, and Smart Solutions

All of these article titles promise to satisfy our desires to be thin, beautiful, young, and have everything we want quickly and easily. Yet, if we don’t get the results we want, when we want them, we launch into feelings of resentment, depression or anxiety. Then when we feel this way we look for other
ways to fulfill our longings: a new hairstyle, wardrobe, job, a man, children, vacations, and food. It’s a frenzied cycle of bondage.

We live in a culture of convenience. The only worthy pursuits are ones which come with little effort. Once life gets hard and we don’t feel fulfilled we pitch a fit. We live in a time where results are demanded instantly; a fast-food mentality permeates all areas of our lives.

This is false teaching alive in the message of our culture, and it is not a biblical message. Women embrace this message, because of insecurity, unhappiness, and a desire to feel fulfilled. Here are 3 ways we can put on our Christian Thinking caps and impart truth into our lives in this area:

1. Unfulfilled longings are not always sinful.

Longings and desires, in and of themselves, are not sinful, and fulfilling these desires are not always sinful either.  When our quest for fulfillment becomes a demanding right that must be fulfilled instantly or we insist on fulfilling our longings in illegitimate ways then we have entered the territory of sin. The problem enters when our desire for other things or people take the place of our desire for God.

2. Our unfulfilled longings cannot be filled by people and things.

C.S. Lewis says this perfectly:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We will always have unfulfilled longings this side of heaven. The problem is we are too easily satisfied with lesser things offered on this earth, and these lesser things will always fail and disappoint us.

God gave us these desires as a way to point us to heaven and to himself as the ultimate satisfying source of life. He wants us to feel restless on this earth; we are sojourners and aliens here. We should not try to make our home in the wilderness, while the promised land is waiting for us.

3. Unfulfilled longings are a normal part of life. Contentment is key.

We will always live with unfulfilled longings. Once we get what we want, we’ll just want something else. The grass always looks greener on the other side, until we get there and see all the weeds we have to fight, and then we desire a new patch of grass. Our consumer minded society is constantly feeding its ferocious appetite for more. This is not a Christian mindset. We are called to think like Paul and learn contentment in every season of life.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13

As Christian women, we need to ask God for strength to be content with whatever lot we find ourselves in. We need to ask for joy in whatever God has set before us. We need to trust God with our unfulfilled longings, and see Christ as our source of ultimate fulfillment to life.

Part 4 >>

Is Your Head Full of Straw?

Christian Thinking Series — Introduction

Men are the tin man in need of a heart and women are the scarecrow wanting for brains. For so long men have been the stereotype of logic and reasoning and women the stereotype of heart and emotions. It can be a mostly true generality, but still a stereotype easily broken.

Are women’s heads truly full of straw? In 2 Timothy 3:5-7 Paul warns Timothy of false teachers:

“And from such people turn away! For this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Paul isn’t perpetuating the above stereotype here, but simply expressing truth. The truth is that women, and housewives in general, are susceptible to the dangers of false teaching. Men are too of course, but there are certain false teachings out there intentionally aimed at women and/or housewives. Just turn on your television to see advertisements selling to women and you know our culture has an agenda.

The Call to Christian Women

Let’s not be those gullible women! Let’s not reserve hard study and theology to the men and seminary students. Women don’t need to be all fluffy hearts and butterflies to epitomize biblical womanhood. We too can be pictured as brave warriors fighting the spiritual battles in our homes, in the world, and in the Church. Women are called to pick up their sword and fight along with the men; the sword of truth does not discriminate.

As Christian women, we need to read and start thinking. Read God’s Word first, but also read good books. You don’t have to be a natural intellectual to think, but we are called to think differently from non-christians. Christian thinking and secular thinking are two seperate categories and we must become familiar with both camps to do battle well.

The Christian Mind

In his 1960’s book, The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires says,

“There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality.”

When we start to think like a christian it should affect our daily living, and not just be a moral awareness.

I love Aimee Byrd’s book, Housewife Theologian. She has an entire chapter devoted to the Christian mind. Here are some excerpts:

“Truly Christian thinking involves an eternal perspective on our daily matters and contemplation of how they fit into the dogma of the drama in which God has cast us. 

 “Our faith has nothing substantial to say to or about what we perceive as real life. We behave as if our Christian values make our contribution to the world somehow insignificant or unintelligent.

Unfortunately, in many ways as a church, we have allowed this kind of thinking and have, in fact, added to it. We keep our faith compartmentalized into a separate realm, apart from the everyday facts and acts of life. When we are not wearing our “faith hat,” we think in terms of all the isms of our time — naturalism, existentialism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, capitalism, liberalism, and so on — unaware that we are thinking like Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, and other philosophic minds and believing that we are thinking “independently.” Tragically, rather than functioning as independent thinkers we are really just parroting the spin-doctors who don’t see life through the lens of God’s special revelation in Scripture.”

As Paul warned Timothy of false teachers in their day Paul mentions ‘they are always learning, but never arriving at the truth’; these are the spin-doctors of our time too.

My next several blog posts will be aimed at expounding on these thoughts. I’ll explore modern day false teaching aimed at women and how it embodies different philosophies. Instead of filling our heads with the straw of false cultural thinking we’ll be using the brains of true Christian thought. Just follow the yellow brick road.

Part 2 >>

Two ways to be Rich Everyday

There is a show on TLC called Extreme Cheapskates. Each episode shows people using bizarre tactics to save a buck. A few episodes I happened to see awhile back showed cheapskate millionaires as well. They fearfully hoard their wealth in a feeble attempt to control their lives, and in the process they make themselves and others suffer needlessly.

In the same way we can be spiritual cheapskate millionaires. We have abundant riches at our disposal daily, but don’t plunge ourselves into the waters of our inheritance.

Ephesians 1:7-14 says,

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Christ is our rich inheritance, given to us by the Father. He lavished the riches of his grace on us through the gospel. Yet, it didn’t stop on the day when we first believed in him. The riches of his grace are available daily to us. We must not selfishly hoard them. We must use them for ourselves and others.

How do we tap into our spiritual wealth? What does this mean in our daily lives?

1.) Read and Hear Truth

What are you soaking in? Are you soaking in your own personal thoughts, feelings, mood, and emotions? Are you soaking in full daily doses of media and worldly philosophies? If we steep in those things too long without truth we’ll become bitter. If we want our life brew to taste more palatable we need daily doses of truth in our lives.

The first place to find the capital T truth is God’s Word. Yet, we can also find glimpses of truth in creation, art, music, and literature, but they must be informed by the capital T truth. God’s Word is the baseline we look to to judge everything in our lives. When we do this we are delighting in and using the riches God has given us in Christ.

We need to know truth in order to deal with our daily circumstances: a demanding boss, catty co-workers, needy children, and even housework. If we don’t have truth anchoring our lives we will get swept away in whatever current comes our way.

2.) Pray for Help

We all hear about (or know personally) the newfound independence of toddlers. “No, me do it,” can commonly be heard in a household with small children. Are we doing this with our heavenly Father? He has given us his riches in order to help us daily; avail of them through prayer.

If my toddler son gets frustrated with something I tell him to use his words and ask me for help. I tell him to say, “Help, mama!”

It’s that simple. Say to God, “Help, daddy!” And he will help you. You don’t have to say a special prayer with a certain number of words that sound fancy and smart. Just say, “help!” You don’t have, because you don’t ask.

Christ became poor in death, so we could have the riches of life daily. We can now approach his throne of grace with full confidence, and know he will answer any prayer that is aligned with the truth of his Word.

As it says above in Ephesians, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance. We are not left alone without the power of the Spirit’s help. God will deliver on his promise through his Holy Spirit, until we fully acquire possession of our inheritance in heaven.

Weary moms need lots of help, so ask for it daily. Pressures in the workforce can be stressful, so ask for help. Life can be mundane and unsatisfying, so ask for help. We are rich, so let’s use it in our aid.

Through truth and prayer we can put our riches to work daily. We are too easily content with substandard conditions; replacing our royal robes with paupers rags. We’ve been given so much, so let’s not turn our backs on it like the Prodigal Son. Don’t exchange pig slop for the rich food at our Father’s banquet.

Wendy Horger Alsup sums this up well:

“Do not be content to simply read through these thoughts and then tuck them away like a miser. Your spiritual inheritance is useful right now in the issues you face daily in life. Spend your inheritance hour by hour of each day, raising your children, loving your husband, adjusting to co-workers, supporting your roommate, dealing with your family, dealing with your church. Your inheritance in Christ is of infinite value and relevant to what you are facing right now. You will never spend it all.”

Where is Your Road Going? The Gospel and Social Justice

Two hot words today: Social Justice. It’s become a big part of Church culture. I’m not here to bash this issue or say it isn’t important, isn’t validated in scripture, or that it doesn’t matter to me. But I am here to bring some clarity and focus around the issue.

As Christians, we can be pulled in so many different directions when it comes to Social Justice. Well, we could get involved with human trafficking, sidewalk counseling at an abortion clinic, helping battered women and children, sponsoring children in other countries, feeding the homeless, and the list goes on and on. I believe the Lord does lay these social burdens on his people’s hearts, and some are called by Him to strongly pursue one or more of these endeavors. I’ve even been involved with a few of these ministries myself. Yet, as we run down one of these roads we must make sure we aren’t running away from the cross, but that our road is running to it.

Social Justice is not the Gospel

It’s easy in Church culture to substitute the myriad of ministries with the Gospel. We must not let a ministry that is important to us cloud our vision of the Gospel. Church ministries are not the Gospel. Social Justice is not the Gospel. These might be avenues towards the Gospel, but they are not one and the same. The Church (the body of Christ) should be all about the Gospel. However, each local church body can explore different ministries to express this truth.

Every good story has a strong climax. This is the part where the protagonist (main character) has to make a decision that affects the rest of the story and the final outcome. The Bible is not exempt from this type of storytelling. In fact, everything in the Old Testament points to the climax in the Bible. What is it? Jesus choosing in his manhood to die a brutal death on the cross and then proving his Godhood by rising from the dead. This is the focal point of the whole Bible, so it should also be the focal point of our lives and our ministries. 

Jesus and Social Justice

In Mark 2:1-12 Jesus is speaking to a large crowd of people, a crowd so large that four men had to lower their paralytic friend through the roof of the house just so Jesus could see him. The first thing Jesus does is tell the man that his sins are forgiven. Why? Jesus knew it was more difficult to be washed clean from filthy sins than to heal bodily ailments. He also knew through the power of his death and resurrection he would be able to give that man a much greater healing; healing from sin. He offers the same to us today. Every church ministry and social justice issue should be about the great healer who gives forgiveness of sins.
Yet, Jesus didn’t deem the mans paralyzes as unimportant either. Jesus was establishing his credibility to heal based on his authority as the Son of God. He still healed the lame man. He took care of his soul and also his body. Let us do the same for others.

Love & Personality

I like personality tests. My analytical mind loves examining and discerning people’s personalities; even my own. I recently took an online personality test and my result was the assertive and stubborn leader found in ESTJ.  One paragraph in my personality type description said this:

“However, ESTJs don’t work alone, and they expect their reliability and work ethic to be reciprocated – people with this personality type meet their promises, and if partners or subordinates jeopardize them through incompetence or laziness, or worse still, dishonesty, they do not hesitate to show their wrath.”

Unfortunately, my husband gets the brunt of my ESTJ personality combined with my sin. So, when he doesn’t do things right, according to my standard, I can be harsh and unloving (or as the paragraph above states, “show my wrath.”)

To Love and to Abide

The above paragraph resonated with me, but didn’t turn to conviction of sin until I was reading 1 John 4:7-21.

Liberally peppered throughout 1 John 3 and 4 are the words abide and abiding. These words are referring to the definition: to remain, continue, stay, dwell, reside, and to continue in a particular condition, attitude or relationship.

Another word that pops up in these two chapters is love. There are also phrases like ‘abiding in God’, ‘God abiding in us’, ‘abiding in love’, ‘loving God’, ‘God loving us’, ‘loving our brothers’, and ‘keeping God’s commandments.’ These individual themes tie together in these two chapters.

When we choose to believe Jesus is the Son of God then God abides in us. We in turn abide in God, and thereby prove God abides in us, by loving God. How do we love God? According to these two chapters, we love God by keeping his commandments and loving others. In fact, the essence of keeping his commandments is through loving God and others.

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40

We Love Because He First Loved us

So, what does this have to do with a personality test and conviction of sin? The fact that I am not good at abiding in love. Abiding in love is harder than I think. It’s not a fuzzy emotional feeling; it’s obedience. It’s nailing my wants, needs, and desires to a tree, so I can be resurrected to a new life of selfless love. I’m the one who dies, so others can live. This is what it looks like to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:5.) When we abide in him we take on his identity.

For most of us it is easy to love strangers, because we never see them again. But it’s harder to love those closest to us; the ones we experience life with everyday. We are going to have some friction at times with either a spouse, child, roommate or parent, because we see and experience more of each other. When they do something we don’t like we try to conform them into what we want-change them.

Yet, the most loving thing I can do for my husband is ask God to change me. It’s easier asking God to change others rather than asking him to change me. I need to ask him to help me be loving and kind to my husband, and this is possible through God’s Spirit abiding in me. It’s possible, because God first loved me.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

The One Parenting Tip we all Need

My Facebook feed has articles of top ten lists, methods, and practices of parents I’ve never met before. These methods and practices can be helpful, but as a parent I’ve realized there is one bottom line: I’m a sinner in need of grace.

It seems God invented parenthood to show us how much we are sinners in need of grace. All parents have this in common. This is where comparisons stop and the playing field is leveled.

How I’m Like a Two Year Old

Recently, the Lord reminded me of this simple truth as my sin was laid bare in front of a 2 1/2 year old. My husband and I have been attempting to train our toddler son to not throw fits when he doesn’t get what he wants. We have been telling him it is anger. In the midst of dealing with my son’s anger on an almost daily basis the Lord has made this a training tool for me as well.

You see, I’m angry too. I might not show it the same way as my son by hitting, screaming, and throwing, but my heart is angry. I’m angry about dealing with a tantruming toddler. I’m feeling worn down and discontent.

During one of these angry fits my son was throwing around plastic Easter eggs, because I needed to check on something cooking in the kitchen. In turn, I got angry and impatient. In that moment I saw myself as a reflection of my son. We’re in the same boat here; sinners in need of God’s grace. So, I gathered my son into my arms and hugged him.

I told him, “Mommy gets angry too and I’m sorry. You know who can help us not be angry? Jesus.”

My son told me he was sorry. Then I told him I loved him and we needed to love like Jesus loves us.

When I am Weak He is Strong

I’m seeing how weak I really am, but confident that His strength is made perfect in weakness. I can run to my Father and ask for help to love like him. My heavenly Father does not grow weary of me, and when I sin he is not impatient or unloving; because of Christ he loves me and does not deal with me in anger. But I never love as perfectly as he loves me. Yet, He will answer when I call. He knows I need more than the love of a mother. I need the love of Christ.

The love of Christ absorbs sin and returns love. He loves unconditionally. He is the Great Shepard who lays down his life for the flock. He does this regardless of how we behave. His love does not change, because He does not change. When I throw tantrums His love embraces me and says, “I know you’re a sinner in need of grace.”

Housewife Theologian Book Review

{This blog post contains an affiliate link.}

Today housewife has become a dirty word. In Christian circles it has sometimes become a shameful thing. We can be embarrassed to admit our occupation to others. Our culture doesn’t see much value and meaning in being a housewife in comparison with working outside the home. A housewife is second rate; uneducated and imprisoned.

In her book, Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary, Aimee Byrd attempts to redeem the word housewife and transform it into something glorious; and something deeper than we make it. Byrd encourages us to think. Our days are not just about laundry and dishes, but should be rich in theology. What we know about God should be apart of the ordinary in our lives; what we know and believe should affect how we live. Byrd describes it this way:

“Truly Christian thinking involves an eternal perspective on our daily matters and contemplation of how they fit into the dogma of the drama in which God has cast us.”

Byrd explains how our femininity, beauty, identity, sexuality, self-image, sin, and attitudes are all out workings of our theological thoughts. This is so important in this day and age as we are surrounded by false teaching that impedes the calling the Lord has given us as women. Byrd teaches us how to not be ‘gullible housewives,’ who believe anything that sounds nice, but to be sharpened in our pursuit of Christian thinking.

Self-Image and Identity

Some of my favorite portions in the book cover self-image and identity. These two issues are typically areas of deception for women. A lot of the lies our culture promotes about these two topics sound pretty truthful. Today you can hear people talking about finding themselves. Feeling lost, like they have no purpose; trying to figure out who they are. It’s not just non-Christians that feel this way, but many Christians.
My only question about these feelings are: Where are you right now?

One of my heroes, Jim Elliot, says this,

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Wherever God has you right now, whatever place, position, or season, is exactly God’s will for you. If we examine our doctrine and truly believe God is sovereign, then we know where we are and what we are doing now is God’s will for us. We don’t have to travel the world or take a pottery class to find ourselves. If we are in the Word of God, we know who we are and who we belong to.

I love the quote from C.S. Lewis in Byrd’s book. It truly summarizes this issue in our culture of finding self:

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end . . . and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

Identity and Idolatry

When it comes to our identity as women, idolatry is not far behind. It’s easy for us to make ultimate things out of good things, as Byrd describes it. It’s also easy for us to find something to attach ourselves to; something that identifies us. Then we end up looking to that thing as our source of happiness. When it’s taken away we respond in sin.

If we are studying and thinking through God’s Word and taking part in Church fellowship we will be setting ourselves up for idol exposing and killing. What are those things that are not Christ that we are looking to fulfill us? To make us happy? To give us purpose? Maybe it’s having a successful career? Getting rich? Maybe being a good housewife? Maybe it’s having a job outside of the home or not having a job outside the home? Maybe it’s looks?

Maybe we need to look for Christ to identify us. We do that when we are faithful housewife theologians who study the Word of God with rigorous discipline and humble prayers for grace. We are true to ourselves (as our culture calls it) when we immerse ourselves in Christ. We follow our dreams (again a modern cultural saying) when we discover the ultimate dream that is Christ himself.

He is our treasure and pearl of great price. Christ defines us as women and shows us that true value, worth, and meaning is found in losing ourselves and finding Him.

Quiver of Blessing

“Whew, just looking at all of your children makes me tired.”

“Are you finished having children?”

“Were any of them an accident?”

My sister has 6 children ages 2-13. She is no stranger to wide-eyed staring and awkward (sometimes rude) questions and remarks. Her 4 year old might be throwing a fit in Target and she’s guaranteed glances, but even if all 6 offspring are calm the staring is inevitable. Most people can’t understand why she would have more than 2 children. It’s societal sterilization.

Recently, the staring and awkward remarks have spilled into discrimination. My sister and her family are not welcome at their local hair salon, because customers complained about her children. They made no major disturbances, except the disturbance of being children. Another family with only one child is still welcome at the salon.

Anti-Family Culture

Discrimination has been a hot topic for awhile now. Whether it’s racial, gender, age, or even sexual orientation, people are being discriminated against. But one group is missing from this list of discriminated folk: mothers. Maybe in some cases discrimination is too strong a word, sometimes it’s just a lack of public support and encouragement. Most times it’s a public disdain for children.

Children are not welcome at restaurants, they aren’t welcome on airplanes, and any type of adult gathering, unless they don’t talk and don’t move. If they talk and move too much, we as parents will get the stare down. Of course we want to be considerate of others and teach our children about social behavior in public settings. Even in the midst of doing these things, children are not perfect, they are still learning; just like us. Societal grace for parents and children is in want of supply.

Jesus Loves Children

This unwelcoming attitude is opposite of Jesus. Luke 18:15-17 says,

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.'”

For the disciples, children were not welcome to see Jesus. The disciples treated the children as a hindrance, hence Jesus says, ‘do not hinder them.’ Jesus does not ogle children, he welcomes them with open arms. He even uses them as an example. Jesus dishes up some humility to counteract his disciples arrogance.

Jesus was basically saying, ” If you want to be my disciple, then learn a thing or two from these children. Learn humility and faith; the complete trust a child has in his parent.”  To enter the kingdom of God this is what we must do today; humble ourselves as children and put our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Children are a Blessing

Much of our society’s disdain for children stems from the wrong perspective. If we aren’t careful as mothers we can fall prey to this mindset as well. If we aren’t fighting to view our children as a blessing, then we will eventually grow to disdain them. Our culture tells us children rob us of ‘me time’ or time alone as a couple. Children ruin our bodies, we can’t go anywhere or do anything, we’re limited, restricted, inconvenienced, trapped!

Yet, the Bible says we are blessed.

“Behold, children are a heritage from The Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” – Psalm 127:3-5

Yes, children ruin our bodies, we don’t have as much time to ourselves or time with our spouse, and yes, we might not be able to do everything we did before we had them, but we need to fill our quivers with much blessing. This season of parenthood is only one part of our entire lives, and then our children grow up. Children are not an inconvenience if we view them as a blessing. They make our lives so much fuller.

As married couples we grow in love for each other in ways that only parenthood can nurture. We even grow in our relationship with Christ. Children can teach us many things about ourselves; they can help us grow in character. These are just a few of the many blessings children bring.

Blessings can be Hard

Children don’t seem like a blessing sometimes, because it is hard to deny ourselves and put someone else first. Our sin gets in the way of viewing children as a blessing. Lately, I’ve been having these inner pity parties for myself, and thinking about all the things I could do if I had more alone time;  thinking how nice it would be to have a cup of coffee without a 16 month old climbing on me and demanding my attention. I quickly realized I was being discontent and making ‘me time’ more important than it was.

Nothing is wrong with having ‘me time’, but it is always easier to chose and want that than it is to deny ourselves. It’s easier to listen to the culture that tells us we are worth it, and deserve to pamper ourselves. All moms need a break for sure, but if we live for those breaks we will be discontent and forget how many blessings we have at home.

So now, I drink my coffee while reading and playing with my son. I’m very blessed to have him, and embrace these coffee moments as such. My sister once sent me a picture of all 6 of her children sitting around their large kitchen table. She said, “Look at all my blessings.” If only all the public gawkers knew what they were missing.

Heaven is Our Bucket List

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven.  Not because I’ve experienced any recent loss, but just from thinking about writing. It’s been over a month since my last post (a combination of the holidays and lack of motivation), and it made me wish I had more time to write. This catapulted into thoughts like, “Will I ever write more than this?” Will I write a book someday?” “Or just get published somewhere a little more noteworthy?”

Before I descended into despair, a new thought sprouted up and choked out the others.  The thought of heaven.  My thoughts were grounded too much on this Earth.  I was believing this life was my only chance at…well, life. My death isn’t the end for me or for my writing. I’ll have all of eternity to focus in on my craft. Maybe I’ll even be better at it in some ways? I’m sure being without sin has its perks.

Heaven and Motherhood

Thinking about heaven has not only affected the way I think about writing, but the way I think about motherhood. There is so much of eternity wrapped up in rearing children. One of the most frustrating things about being a parent is working hard and not always getting immediate results or rounds of applause. We might see some fruit from our parenting labors in this lifetime, but many we won’t know or see until heaven.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Every sacrifice for our children, every teaching moment, every loving word and action, every time we grow in character through parenting is an eternal thing. We’re building an unseen eternal kingdom in our homes. It’s much more glorious than snotty noses and poopy diapers. We might not hear shouts of approval and rounds of applause now for every mundane task we do, but in heaven we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.

Dream About Heaven

It’s important to dream about heaven. To dream about what we will do and accomplish there. Every dream and aspiration can be met in heaven if we can’t do it on Earth. Who needs a bucket list with this kind of guarantee?

Heaven is hope for the weary mom. It’s the ultimate comfort, because every trial and disappointment we face points to something better. It should make us groan and long for heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:1-2 says, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

Every negative thing we feel or know on this Earth turns into a positive in heaven.  Every hardship is a blessing if it makes us long for heaven. Are you discouraged by your lack of progress in the Christian faith? Groan and long for heaven. Where you will be fully perfected in the way God already sees you through Christ. Do you feel distant from God? Does he seem silent? Groan and long for heaven where you will never feel this way again. You will finally see his face and feel his presence forever.

Heaven is for the sinner saved by grace, it’s for the mom who is Queen of the mundane, and it’s for the artist who needs more time and opportunity than this life can offer.

“So, What Do You Do?”

You’re at a party. You don’t know many people, so you strike up a conversation with someone over the punch bowl. You ask, “So what do you do?” The conversation then rolls to talk of occupation, work, study…whatever it is you “do.”

It’s a common ice-breaker question with an unintentional and underlying meaning. Basically, the person asking the question is seeking to identify you with something, and in our culture we are identified by what we do. Who we are is what we do. It’s as simple as that.

Identity and Success

This is why so many in our culture are highly driven for success. If our identity is wrapped up in what we do, then we need to do a heck of a lot and do it better than everyone else. Why would anyone settle for the bottom of the ladder when they can climb to the top? Why would anyone drop their career to stay at home with their children? Why would someone pass up overtime to spend time with their family? It’s not wrong to climb to the top of the ladder, keep a career with children, or work overtime. But when you are completely absorbed in it and consistently put it above everything else, your work has become who you are.

The reason our culture absorbs themselves in their careers, and is always running towards success, is because they have nothing else. Each success they earn is all they have to live for in this world. Everyone is building their own mini-kingdom on this earth. They don’t know there is another kingdom to invest in or another world to live for. The emptiness they feel (or are unaware of, but is still present) drives them to do more. Each accomplishment in life (personal or work related) never satisfies, which is why they have to look for the next one to conquer.

A Christian Mindset

Yet, if you are a Christian your identity is not in what you do or have accomplished, but in what has already been done for you. This is why we can rest and not “do” so much, this is why we don’t need to feel inadequate if we don’t have a degree, or feel intimidated by people who have much earthly success. Our identity is secure; it’s not based on a fluctuating economy, a wavering income, or our tentative position in a company. Who we are is who Christ is. We are one with Christ who is one with the Father. Our greatest and most important accomplishment in life — salvation — has been achieved by Jesus Christ; He is our success story.

Jesus is the perfect model of true success; a life emptied of self and full of God and others. All of his accomplishments were acts of love and service. When we give our lives to Christ we not only believe and accept he died on the cross and rose from the dead for us, but we believe and accept all of his accomplishments in His life as our own. His success becomes our success. And in this success we cannot boast, because we didn’t earn it nor do we deserve it.

We have been set free from our culture’s version of identity in success. Now we can live our lives in true success: dying to self and living for God and others. This is building the Kingdom of God on earth, and the perfect fulfillment of His Kingdom will be found in heaven. Our culture lives for their own mini-kingdom that they build themselves. We are apart of something much bigger and more fulfilling; a Kingdom not made with human hands, but bought with flesh and blood. Christ’s broken flesh and spilled blood bought my success.